Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Voting Rights and Felons

As I have discussed before, felons have limited voting rights. The precise restrictions vary from state to state (see this document for list of state rules). There are only two states who permanently disenfranchise felons -- Kentucky and Virginia. Florida was in the same group but changed their policy last year.

Most states, including North Carolina where I live, allow felons to re-register to vote once they have completed all terms of their sentence. In my case, that means when I complete my term of supervised release, I can re-register to vote. For some felons, however, huge fines (e.g. white collare fraud defendants) with no hope of ever fully repaying mean that they will never fulfill the terms of their sentence, thereby, effectively disenfranchising them permanently.

Yesterday, my wife voted and noted that my name was still on the voting roster (since the names are listed alphabetically when the poll-working marks you off, she was able to see my name). I had been informed that the prosecutor in Philadelphia was supposed to send my judgment document to the state election board, who is to remove me from the list.

I called my probation officer and asked him if I was allowed to vote since my name was still on the list. I figured that it is the state's job to prevent me from voting and if, by oversight, they left me on the role, then I get to vote. My PO nixed that thought really quick. While not knowing why my name was still on the roster, he said I would get in trouble if I voted. Sigh!

Just as well. I am a life-long Republican and have NEVER voted for a Democrat. This year, however, I was tempted and I STILL don't know who I would have voted for. I am so disappointed in my party and I like about 80% of Obama, but I disagree with him on some very fundamental values and principles.

So.... I'm glad I had an excuse to sit this one out :)


Tea N. Crumpet said...

Why aren't felons allowed to vote?

I volunteer at a prison and I am a reporter. I told a few political pals about this (gushed) and several months later it was only the Democrats who asked after it.

Why are Republicans considered "Christian" when their only link is that they don't like abortion, but Democrats care about other things like job training, education, health care, etc.? I voted Democrat on a local level for the first time ever. They are nice! They sadly lost, but they are still active in everything and we are friends now.

Tea N. Crumpet said...

Oh-- and I have never met a Democrat who LIKES abortion. I met some who were running who announced that they were against it, much to the consternation of the Republicans!

Bill Bailey said...

Convicted felons ARE allowed to vote once they have completed the term of their sentence (except in KY and VA). I assume the rationale is that felons have disqualified themselves from having a voice by committing a serious crime.

I try to avoid commenting on other social/political issues so as not to distract from the purpose of this blog. However, you have pressed me :)

I wasn't aware that Republicans were considered Christians but conservative Christians certainly make up a significant wing of Republicans. This is due to a variety of factors. Historically, evangelicals did not get involved in politics. Politics was a distraction from their primary religious mission. Politics was viewed as nothing more than shuffling the deck on the Titanic.

Roe v Wade changed all that.

There is no logical reason why Republicans adopted the "life" issue as their own rather than Democrats. I mean Democrats were the party of the disposessed while Rockefeller Republicans were the party of money and didn't care about social issues. One would think that Democrats would have picked up this issue. However, due to the combination of the 60s sexual revolution and feminism, abortion was viewed through the lens of women's reproductive and sexual freedom rather than through the lens of the dignity of the unborn.

Reagan smartly picked up on the issue and the rest is history... abortion became a Republican issue and brought a whole country of evangelicals along with it. It also worked nicely with their sense that the culture was going to hell in a handbasket and it seemed like the Democrats were the party of rebellion and lack of respect for authority.